Day 3 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai
Men's 200m freestyle
The wait is over: what a final! Ryan Lochte is king in 1:44.44, Olympic champion Michael Phelps takes silver for a US 1-2, on 1:44.79, defending champion Paul Biedermann (GER) takes bronze in 1:44.88, with Park Tae-hwan (KOR) on 1:44.92 and Yannick Agnel (FRA) on 1:44.99. A second silver in a row for the 2005 and 2007 world champion - the kind of bite that coach Bob Bowman may well find fairly useful on the way to the swansong as he the 14-gold winner seeks to defend the Olympic title.
Lochte had stated yesterday after semis that he had a plan in mind to deliver 1-2 for the US. It worked like clockwork: the Americans got the better starts, got into their strokes first, turned first at 50, Phelps on 24.25, Lochte 24.52, Biedermann back on 25.03. By the half-way mark, Phelps and Lochte maintained the helm on 50.93 and 51.20 respectively, with Biedermann on 51.58.
It was then that Lochte played the classic third-length card. Make that the second-turn card: the Gregg Troy-trained Florida Gator blasted off the wall, his underwater work supreme, his break into stroke like a killerwhale surfacing for the bite. The field responded and the hunt was on. At the last turn, Lochte had established the biggest lead in the splits race so far, 1:17.49, to 1:18.13 for Phelps, with Agnel demoting the Olympic champion to third by 0.03sec, Biedermann, coached in Halle by Frank Embacher, on 1:18.49 and starting to roll.
The last length, at least from 20m out, was a case of who could keep tightness at bay. Strokes shortened, arms, hands, fingers and sinews started to dig. The wall could not come soon enough. Lochte was relentless, his 1:44.44 the reward for a skill exploited to the max, with Phelps showing the warrior spirit needed to make the most out of a less-than-perfect place for a man dripping in gold, while Biedermann retained pride with a second bronze of the week that confirmed his lofty status in world swimming and set him up with targets to shoot for on the way to London 2012.
Olympic silver medallist Park Tae-hwan (KOR) had never been more than a short stroke out of touch and fell just 0.04sec shy of Biedermann at the touch, on 1:44.92, with Agnel slipping from silver to fifth in 1:44.99 at the close. A French record that marked his first time inside 1:45, the same barrier broken by for Lochte and Biedermann too, counting textile-suits only.
Waiting in the wings for all of them: Ian Thorpe, on the comeback trail and watching from his eerie in the Old World as he prepares to return to the race pool in November on the London 2012 trail. Both Thorpe, on 1:44 flat at his best by the time he wuit the sport in 2006 (after having left in spirit in 2004 in the wake of two Olympic crowns in Athens, over 200m and 400m) and Phelps, below 1:44 in textile in 2007, have been to a place where the rest of tonight's line-up have not. But the gap has closed significantly.
Lochte, who on the 2nd and 3rd turns did to Phelps what Phelps is used to doing to others, headed to his press conference with Biedermann but Phelps floated back to the pool for the semi-final of the 200m butterfly, the sting fresh. In 1:54.85, he was pipped by Takeshi Matsuda (JPN), on 1:54.30, while the first man home in the first semi was China's Chen Yin, on 1:54.80.
Meantime, Biedermann was happy with the time but bronzed off with the colour of his week. In the press conference, Biedermann said: "It was a tough race. I think this has the potential to be an Olympic final. It was very close. I lost a lot at the start and the turns and that's something I will now work on. Now it's time to get ready for the Olympics and every day counts."
Asked by the Washington Post whether he would ever see 1:42.00 again, the 2009 champion smiled and said: "I think itn will be difficult. The suits definitely helped ... as some guy at SwimNews will point out [it is the only way to explain to non-swimming people why the field should be almost 3sec slower this time round than in 2009 and keeping alive the truth that Biedermann has made good progress - just that the clock doesn't show it - Ed]. We're all back in jammers and that's what counts."
See our separate wrap of the day for quotes from Lochte and Phelps, to be filed soon.
The splits compared:
History in the making
From the archive:
Just two men have stood on a world-championship podium for the 50m, 100m and 200m: Matt Biondi (USA) and Michael Klim (AUS), in 1998 while a training partner of Popov’s under the guidance of coach Gennadi Touretski, now guiding Thorpe on the comeback trail. Klim too is back in the swim, 13 years after his best world-titles performance: he claimed seven medals at Perth 1998 world titles, among them four gold. Klim married Balinese princess, Lindy Rama, a niece of the king of Denpasar, in April 2006 and the couple have two children.